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Sunday, March 7, 2010

Festa Della Donna: history, memories and more!

Cari Amici e carissime amiche,

Today is March 8th, International Woman’s Day, Festa delle Donne, so even if I believe that every day should be our Woman’s Day, let’s celebrate this today with some brief history of it, some memories of this day in Italy and a great recipe to make!!

In Ancient Roman times, the year ended with February, and, in fact the Latin name of that month, Ferbruarius Mensis, meant something like "month of cleansing or finishing up" in preparation for the New Year. February was followed by several intercalary days to get the calendar back on track, and then the New Year began on March 1, which was also the first day of spring (primo vere).
March 8 was one of the first of the springtime festae, a day sacred to Ariadne, whom Thesius had abandoned on the Island of Naxos after promising to marry her if she helped him slay her father's pet Minotaur.  Seduced and abandoned, she was a prototype for ancient Mediterranean womanhood.  She later married Bacchus, but that was a whole new adventure.

Before the Second World War, Women's Day had been celebrated on different days in early March in several Italian cities. In 1945, the Union of Italian Women decided to hold all celebrations and commemorations on March 8. However appropriate it would have been, they didn't have Ariadne in mind. In fact they were memorializing two events outside of Italy: a March 8, 1857, strike by women garment workers in New York, which led to the formation two years later of the first women's union in the United States, and a strike by Russian women calling for "bread and peace" on March 8, 1917 (February 23 on the old Russian calendar but March 8 in the rest of the world.)
Woman’s Day started as a Socialist political event but the holiday blended in the culture of many countries (primarily Russia and the countries of former Soviet bloc).
In some country, this day still has the political and human rights theme, as designated by the United Nations runs strong, and political and social awareness of the struggles of women worldwide are brought out and examined in a hopeful manner.
In Italy though the day has lost its political flavour, and it has become simply an occasion for men to express their love to the women around them in a way somewhat similar to Mother’s Day and St. Valentine’s Day mixed together.
For me it is a major day of global celebration for the economic, political and social achievements of women.
In Italy, to celebrate the day, men give yellow mimosas to women.
Authorities don't agree how or why this Italian tradition started. Some sources say the tradition of men giving their wives, mothers, daughters, and other women friends sprigs of bright yellow Mimosa flowers on March 8, started in Rome in 1946. Women have since also started to give Mimosa to each other. The flowers are intended as a sign of respect for the women and also an expression of solidarity with the women in their support for oppressed women worldwide.
If you wonder why the Mimosa, well I have searched and find out that it was just a simple conincidence: the flower the symbolize March 8th was chosen just because the young women of the Udi (Unione Donne Italiane) in 1946, liked the flower for it’s great bright yellow color and the great strong smell.
There was, for a time, some resistance to the custom of giving women Mimosa, because it was heavily supported by Italian Socialists, but that appears to have evaporated over the years.
I have never seen a Mimosa in the USA. Mimosa, latin name acacia dealbata, was introduced to Europe from Australia in 1820 and spread rapidly. Mimosa is cultivated for its flowers, for cut flowers and honey production, and for essential oils, for use in perfumes and cosmetics. It's dense growth and spines make it a good hedge plant, and its wood is sometimes used in bent-wood furniture. 
Well Festa della Donna in Italy is indeed a day of celebration. I have so many memories of this day.
As a child it was the day that daddy was brining home Mimosas for his ladies: me, mom and grandma and so did also Grandpa Ruggero. And also some delicious Chocolates, like the Baci Perugina, were and are  always a gift we loved to receive.
Later it is has been a moment to celebrate with “girlfriends” only. There are a lot of parties for women’ only!! You can imagine the madness and the fun of those parties!! Men are aloud in only after midnight! And what happen at those parties before midnight: stays at those party!!
Only one thing to say: for me the fun was to see the so colled”good girls” of the village going wild and behind and finghting for the first row for the Chippendale ‘s show!! That was the Show in the show for me!!!

Another way to celebrate in Italy this day,as you can imagine, is also to cook a special Woman’s Day menu!!  We try to cook anything we can, who has a yellow color in it and for dessert we make this delicious Woman’s Day Cake: Torta Mimosa!!
I made it a lot of time and it's a delicious recipe typical of the North of Italy, to be even more specific from Emilia Romagna. Here is the recipe from Accademia Barilla.

Mimosa cake

Mimosa Cake, a sweet treat filled with a delicious cream and flavored with Italian lemon.
Servings 8
For sponge cake
2 ½ oz all-purpose flour
2 ½ oz potato starch
5 oz sugar
6 eggs
For chantilly cream
2 cups milk
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
3 ½ oz sugar
1 oz all-purpose flour
1 lemon zest
½ stick vanilla
7 oz cream
1 ¾ oz powdered sugar
For syrup
1 cup water
½ cup Kirsch (dry cherry liqueur)
3 oz sugar
1 hour and 30 minutes preparation
To make sponge cake, whisk the eggs and sugar in a mixer until firm. 
Then gently fold in, little by little, the flour and potato starch, sieved together, using a spatula. 
Once the mixture is smooth, pour it into 2 cake tins, that have been buttered and floured; then bake at 325° F for 45 minutes. 
Once cooked, allow the sponge cakes to cool.
While the sponge is in the oven, make the Chantilly cream, by mixing the whipped cream with confectioner’s custard. See below on how to make the confectioner’s custard.
Whip the cream with the powdered sugar, then put it in the refrigerator.
Make the confectioner’s custard as follows.
Cut the vanilla pod lengthwise, scrape out the seeds and put them in a bowl. 
Using a potato peeler, take the zest off a lemon, being careful not to take any of the white part underneath. In a pot, bring the milk to the boil with the vanilla seeds and the lemon zest. 
As soon as the milk starts boiling, remove from heat.
In a bowl, whisk the eggs and yolks with the sugar. 
Add the flour, previously sieved, and mix well.
Once the mixture is smooth, dilute it with a bit of warm milk, stirring while adding. Pour the remaining milk through a sieve to remove the lemon zest. 
Put back the mixture over the heat and cook over a low heat for 5 - 10 minutes stirring continuously, allowing it to boil for 2 – 3 minutes.
Remove the custard from the heat and allow it to cool. 
Once the confectioner’s custard is cold, fold it in the whipped cream.
To make the syrup, to be used to soak the sponge. Bring to boil a mixture of water and sugar so that the latter dissolves. Once dissolved, remove from the heat and add some Kirsch.
When all the ingredients are ready, assemble the cake as described below.
Step 1
Cut one sponge into horizontal layers about 0.4 inches thick.

Step 2
Line a glass bowl about 8 inches in diameter with bands of baking paper. Arrange a layer of sponge on the bottom of the bowl.

Step 3
Using a small brush soak the sponge with the Kirsch syrup.

Step 4
Spread a layer of Chantilly cream on top of the sponge and cover with another slice of sponge. Repeat the operation for 3 sponge layers. Then, put the cake in the refrigerator and allow it to rest for 30 minutes or so.

Step 5
Cut the second sponge into dices 0.2 - 0.4 inches in size.

Step 6
Turn out the cake onto a plate.

Step 7
Coat the outside of the cake with the remaining cream.

Step 8
Spread the sponge dices over the top of the cake to cover the entire cake.

So Happy Woman’s Day and Happy Cake!!
Buona Festa della Donna e Buon dolce a tutti,
And stay tuned for my next week blog “Italians and Food”.

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